Syrian Refugee Admissions to the United States
September 22, 2015 (IN10355)
Related Policy Issue
Andorra Bruno, Specialist in Immigration Policy (email@example.com, 7-7865)
With some European countries pledging to accept increased numbers of Syrian and other asylum seekers in the face of a
refugee crisis, attention is focused on the United States and its plans to admit Syrian and other refugees in FY2016 and
beyond. The Obama Administration initially proposed an overall refugee ceiling of 75,000 for FY2016 and held
consultations with Congress on that proposal, as required by law. On September 20, 2015, however, Secretary of State
John Kerry announced that the refugee ceiling for FY2016 would instead be 85,000. Previously the Administration had
announced that the United States would admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016. Once final, the refugee
ceiling and regional allocations (for Africa, East Asia, Europe/Central Asia, Latin America/Caribbean, and Near
East/South Asia) for the next fiscal year are set forth in an annual Presidential Determination on refugee admissions.
The FY2015 worldwide refugee ceiling is 70,000 and the allocation for the Near East/South Asia region, which includes
Syria, is 31,000. The FY2015 refugee admissions proposal included a discussion of U.S. plans to resettle Syrian
refugees. From October 1, 2010, through August 31, 2015, the United States has admitted a total of 1,494 Syrian
refugees, almost 1,300 of that total since October 1, 2014.
Definition of a Refugee
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines a refugee as a person who is outside his or her country and is unable
or unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion,
nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In special circumstances, a refugee also may
be a person who is within his or her country and is persecuted or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of
race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Refugee Admissions Process
Refugees are admitted to the United States from abroad. In most cases, refugee applicants are processed outside their
home countries; in-country processing is available only in limited circumstances. The Department of State's Bureau of
Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is responsible for managing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Most
prospective refugees are referred to the U.S. program by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR). The Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible
for adjudicating refugee cases, which are handled by officers in the agency's Refugee Corps.
In order to be admitted to the United States in refugee status, a prospective refugee, in addition to meeting the INA
definition of a refugee, cannot be firmly resettled in any foreign country, must be determined to be of special
humanitarian concern to the United States, and must be admissible to the United States under the applicable grounds of
inadmissibility in the INA. Refugees are subject to the INA criminal and security-related grounds of inadmissibility,
among other grounds, and undergo applicable biographic and biometric security checks. Refugee applicants must clear
all required checks before their applications can receive final approval.
Approved refugees are admitted to the United States in refugee status. They are not issued visas. After one year in
refugee status in the United States, refugees are required to apply to adjust to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.
Resettlement in the United States
Arriving refugees are placed in communities in the United States through the DOS Reception and Placement program,
which provides refugees with initial resettlement services. FY2015 arrivals have been placed in 48 states and the
District of Columbia. Longer-term transitional assistance is provided through a program administered by the
Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within the Administration for
Children and Families.